Posts Tagged ‘The Atlantic


We can all, actually, have it all (but who wants it?)

Kristin Howterton posted recently on the underlying tension of gender roles in the pursuit of an egalitarian marriage. You can read it here.

The underlying premise is that, despite our (meaning, mostly women’s) efforts to find equality in both the home and the workplace, many women still feel guilty getting home to see their husbands cooking dinner with a crying toddler on his hip or wonder whether it’s fair to expect that men should PROBABLY contribute to the household chores if their wives are working outside the home.

I know, right?

Maybe there’s something wrong with me, but this kind of thing does not make me feel guilty.

I responded at length, including replies to other commenters.

Most substantially:

I think we all learned the lessons of our childhood, and watching our parents, and have to struggle with these lessons, maybe just a little. But when I read these two sentences:

“When I walk though the door and see him cooking dinner with a crying toddler on this hip, I get a gut check that says, ‘Oh dear. I should be doing that.'”


“I think people our age have wised up to the idea that if a woman works, then the husband should probably step it up and help with some of the domestic duties as well.”

I just want to weep.

You think you should be doing that, but he shouldn’t? And the husband should PROBABLY step up? Ugh.

It’s his household as much as yours, his children as much as yours; and even if they’re not “his” children, but, say, maybe even “only” his stepchildren, his marriage to you makes him an equal partner in domestic needs if he wants to be an equal partner in domestic bliss.

I think there are ways people can balance things. I knew a couple once where the mom stayed at home, so the “housework” was her job, but when he was home, the childrearing was shared. That seemed fair. I guess you could do a proportional thing: he works 40 hours per week to her 30 so she does 60% of the housework. I guess you could even divide it proportionally to reflect the amount of money brought in, but I think that’s a terrible idea and think I shouldn’t even suggest it. (The jury will disregard the last statement.) My husband make 50% more money than I do, but my scheduled work time far exceeds his, so he does most of the cooking, laundry, and shopping. I clean when I can get to it. It works for us.

No shoulds, no probablys about it.

Fortuitously, Anne-Marie Slaughter writes in the issue of The Atlantic about “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All.”

It’s a very good article. It’s long, but worth it. Some of the best stuff is at the end.

Her arguments could be summarized thusly:

Women can have it all, but only if there is a radical paradigm shift, including if men start demanding the right to have it all, too. Meaning that it’s not a sign of unprofessionalism or a lack of commitment for ANYONE to want to take time to take care of their children, their aging/ailing parents, or even, GASP, themselves.

The idea that women who take a different track so as to raise their own children are NOT less ambitious; the realization that one of the biggest challenges is that the hours of a school day continue not to coincide with the hours of a work day (we won’t even talk about the havoc wreaked by snow days and 2-hour delays); the fact that women have to make trade-offs that men do not — these are realizations that can and should trigger real change, change that requires an effort by the majority of us out there, male AND female, or they won’t.

Ms. Slaughter ends with a goal, if not a challenge:

I continually push the young women in my classes to speak more. They must gain the confidence to value their own insights and questions, and to present them readily. My husband agrees, but he actually tries to get the young men in his classes to act more like the women–to speak less and listen more. If women are ever to achieve real equality as leaders, then we have to stop accepting male behavior and male choices as the default and the ideal. We must insist on changing social policies and bending career tracks to accommodate our choices, too. We have the power to do it if we decide to, and we have many men standing besides us.

We’ll create a better society in the process, for all women. We may need to put a woman in the White House before we are able to change the conditions of the women working at Walmart. But when we do, we will stop talking about whether women can have it all. We will properly focus on how we can help all Americans have healthy, happy, productive lives, valuing the people they love as much as the success they seek.

That’s the ticket.

Where do I sign?


How to. . .for Dummies?

I’m really disturbed by the apparent current belief among many that everything worth doing can be “taught” via a how-to book. This has become so prevalent that if you type “How to. . .” into the search window you actually get 381,110 hits.

Granted, some of these are movies (How to Train Your Dragon; How to Marry a Millionaire), and the first one listed gave me pause (Decency prevents me; click here if you must know.) But if you narrow the selection to Books only there are still 300,776. If you limit it to “. . .for Dummies” it cuts this list all the way down to 10,667. Seriously. Ten thousand, six hundred, and sixty seven “How to . . . for Dummies” titles.

First of all, (and maybe this is just me,) I’m not really all that interested in reading something that has been written by someone who is operating under the assumption that I’m a moron. This cannot be a good experience. Condescension is one thing when delivered by a male colleague, your physician, or your children. It’s something else entirely when you’ve paid for it.

I think what disturbs me most of all is the unsuitability of some of these topics to a How-To manual. Psychology for Dummies, Anatomy and Physiology for Dummies, Sex for Dummies. Yikes. Like it’s a good idea to have random, relatively uneducated strangers analyzing the emotional reasons for the items you’ve placed in your grocery cart, or setting your ankle after a bad fall. The third one is the most disturbing — if you’re both dummies, maybe you just shouldn’t; think of the children!

Many of the topics result in interesting if not downright unfortunate implications: Catholicism for Dummies (is this a different form of Catholicism than the one available to smart people?); Chemistry for Dummies (boom!!!); Twitter for Dummies (seriously? isn’t that the point of twitter? how hard is it really? I mean, if a bird can do it. . .)

Have we forgotten that some of these topics — psychology, medicine, investing and finance (okay, maybe this one not so much), literature — used to be considered worthy of many years of advanced study and hard work? I’ve spent 40 years getting good at playing the piano, through individualized study with qualified, gifted, inspiring teachers and thousands of hours of practice. Are they actually implying that I could have learned everything I need to know from a manual? (Okay, I know they’re not implying that exactly, but what are they implying? And I haven’t even touched on the importance of human interaction in the learning process.)

Richard Bausch writes in the latest Fiction edition of The Atlantic about his experience with the editors of a set of dozens of fiction how-to books. This article includes the description of the result of his eventual agreement, not to write a fiction how-to book, but to write a chapter on the Craft of writing. His closing paragraph of this chapter extols the reader, ergo assumed-to-be-aspiring writer, not to follow step-by-step instructions from a manual, but to read. A lot.  That in order to write, massive quantities of good literature must be read, digested, even imitated. Most of this paragraph is surreptitiously cut by the editors, leaving a vague, relatively meaningless paean and no useful information. When it is admitted that the editors are concerned that the author’s “instructions” will result in the drop in sales of their myriad books, and the author is unwilling to omit the paragraph, the entire chapter is dropped from the book.

Everybody wants the short cut. Children: few chores, ample allowance, easy teachers. College students: the best grade with the least possible work, the job that allows them to stay out late on weekends and sleep in. Even adults aren’t above this — after the easy money (lotto, stocks that hit it big and which no one else knew about); the easy job (flex-time, high salary, company car, expense account).

But some things require time. And work. And effort.

And sometimes, it’s the time, and work, and effort, which make it worth it at all.

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